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Hell on Earth

The Writer’s Almanac [2004]

It was on this day in 1945 that the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. It was the first time that a nuclear weapon was ever used in warfare, and only the second time that a nuclear weapon had ever been exploded. The attack led to the end of World War II. The Allies sent a message to Japan on July 26 that said, “We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces…The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.” Japan rejected the terms of surrender after one day of debate.

Secretary of War Henry Stimson cabled Truman to ask for permission to use the bomb, and Truman cabled back, “Suggestion approved. Release when ready.” On August 5, the bomb was loaded onto a specially designed B-29 bomber. The bomb was called “Little Boy,” because it was the smaller of two devices that had been made. It contained 2.2 pounds of uranium.

The bomb was dropped over Hiroshima at 8:15 AM. It exploded 1900 feet above the ground. Capt Robert Lewis watched the explosion from his cockpit, and wrote in his journal, “My God, what have we done?”

The temperature on the ground directly under the explosion reached 7200 degrees Fahrenheit. The flames of the explosion traveled seven miles in 30 seconds. The blast of light burned permanent shadows into the sides of buildings and on the ground. Survivors foraging for food in vegetable gardens later that day dug up potatoes that had been baked in the soil. More than three quarters of the city’s buildings were destroyed. About eighty thousand people died instantly, and sixty thousand more would die from their injuries in the coming months. World War II ended slightly more than a week after the bomb was dropped.

The Sun Is Burning Lyrics
Simon & Garfunkel

The sun is burning in the sky
Strands of clouds go slowly drifting by
In the park the lazy breeze
Are joining in the
flowers, among the trees
And the sun burns in the sky

Now the sun is in the West
Little kids go home to take their rest
And the couples in the park
Are holdin’ hands and waitin’ for the dark
And the sun is in the West

Now the sun is sinking low
Children playin’ know it’s time to go
High above a spot appears
A little blossom blooms and then draws near
And the sun is sinking low

Now the sun has come to Earth
Shrouded in a mushroom cloud of death
Death comes in a blinding flash
Of hellish heat and leaves a smear of ash
And the sun has come to Earth

Now the sun has disappeared
All is darkness, anger, pain and fear
Twisted, sightless wrecks of men
Go groping on their knees and cry in pain
And the sun has disappeared

Bon Appetit (a dream)

I dreamed I was in a large room, standing at a stainless steel table. On the table was a partially dismembered animal. As I moved the pieces of the body, I found the head and spine  were intact and still connected to the pelt. This was a large wolf. I was shocked to see something in the face of the wolf suggest it was still aware and it wanted the human skull I only noticed at that moment on the same table. There was some connection between these two.

 

A haughty man spoke to me impatiently, indicating I was doing a bad job butchering this wolf. He was not there to teach me. I said, “I have two questions: (1) if I care, how can I learn to do this correctly? And (2) if I don’t care, can I leave?” Silently indicating his disdain, he fumbled for something to give me from a bracelet or ring of tokens.

 

I left the large kitchen, entering a beautiful huge restaurant with a high curved ceiling, everything marble or white. The far side of the restaurant was open to the dark night sky.

 

I passed a table at which someone I knew was seated. They ask me a question but I brushed them off.

 

The open side of the restaurant wasn’t an exit. I had to scramble over a series of low walls to get out. I woke.

 

—–

A few notes:

 

The butcher’s table wasn’t as gory as one might imagine. Despite the deep red meat, there was no blood. I did not think the wolf was in pain, just in need of finishing something.

 

The supervisor was played, as it were, by Marcos Inaros, a character from The Expanse.

 

The effect of the restaurant was roughly like an open clamshell.

 

I got up at 4am to make notes. This was too important a dream to risk forgetting. Though I have recalled many dreams, this is the first time I’ve gotten up for one in a long time.

 

As I laid awake afterward, I thought about Station Eleven, which I started reading the day before. Only one thing directly relates: me struggling over the low walls is similar to Jeevan climbing onto the stage. Otherwise, my main thought was how much better the writing is in Station Eleven, though I think my ‘vision’ (my dream) is remarkable.

Staggering along Memory Lane

I read reviews of books, movies, restaurants, even art. Often, I know I won’t read / see / visit the subject of the review, in which case I especially appreciate spoilers. (This is the only way I can handle horror stories.)

 

This morning, I read a piece in which two authors bandied about favorite books and authors in a genre I hadn’t heard of: fantasy noir. I followed leads to several references. One particular author had written a biography of Richard Brautigan, author of Trout Fishing in America, among others.

 

I read several of Brautigan’s works in my (pre-)teens. I remember liking his stuff. (The biography looks good, too.) But there were a couple of works that didn’t come up in my search. And that led me to the realize I was thinking of another author: William Kotzwinkle, who wrote a book I *loved* at the time, Elephant Bangs Train (short stories). To this day, I think now and then about A Most Incredible Meal, especially when a celebration ignores a tragedy, which happens quite often.

 

But, what about Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle? I’d misattributed that to Brautigan, as well. I find now it was from an eclectic collection of poems by then-modern poets. Looking at the table of contents online, I don’t recognize any of the titles, but this one stuck through the years.

 

Learning involves building connections, particularly non-linear and tangential. We laugh at recalling minutia from decades ago while forgetting what day it is today, but to get a hint of what lies below the surface — the depth of knowledge and experience we might plumb — is a delight. The mind amuses and amazes. You’re never alone once you befriend yourself.   

Downtown

Downtown. Ah, I still love Petula Clark 50+ years later. You could tell me she was an antifeminist, homophobic racist, and I would still love her (with some judgement — but understand, that was rhetorical, she’s as innocent as can be, as far as I know). Downtown pops up in my workout playlist at least once a week. Nowadays, the song has taken on a ‘chamber of commerce’ feel — hey, everybody, free parking after 6pm Downtown! I don’t know if I originally caught the wistful melancholy, but it’s still groovy, man.

 

“Just like downtown.” My high school chemistry teacher, Mr Kapriva, used to say “just like downtown,” explaining for the benefit of his young charges that it meant “cool.” Mr Kapriva liked me because I sat in the front row and wore a tie and carried a briefcase. (It was an act of rebellion, at the time — the 60s lasted until 1973.) Each day, he would acknowledge my tie. It seemed to kill him that I bought my ties at a drugstore (3 for $5). Just like downtown.

 

Mr Kapriva had great hopes for my academic potential but did little to enhance it, though he was kind enough to give me a medal at the end of the year. It wasn’t until college that I had serious lab experience, which taught me I love cleaning glass but hate memorizing highly structured data. (I need to build my own structure.)

 

Mr Kapriva’s chemistry colleague, Mr Palmer, might have been a better teacher. Certainly, their colleague, Mr Duncan, intimidated the hell out of me (which is why I never studied physics except to the extent it inevitably overlaps chemistry and math).

 

I liked Kapriva but my favorite teachers were able to make me feel special while insisting I prove it. Like Ms Kraft (Algebra) and Mr Kokonis (Calculus).

 

“Don’t hang around and let your problems surround you … You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares” Downtown. Cool.

A room of one’s own

[with respect and gratitude to Virginia Woolf]

I spend hours each day in one room of our house. Many years ago, this room was our bedroom. Then, it was an office we shared (briefly), before it became my office / our guest room (with foldout couch). During a remodel, it became our bedroom again. Now, I think of it as our tv room, given most vestiges of my office have gone. Though it is “our” room, I’ve felt comfortable outfitting it unilaterally. Let’s have a look, shall we?

the nook

Start with the corner that used to have a stand-up desk I built. Now, it’s a nook. I’ve documented the wall of photos elsewhere. The chair was Merri’s mom’s. Mer spent many hours there in her youth; I commandeered it during visits to her mom’s house. On the floor in front of the chair is a futon — a terrific place for a nap. You might note the wall of photos is white; the wall with the window is light green; those colors meet again in the opposite corner. (Long ago, that white wall was Taos turquoise — so vibrant people stepped back when they saw it.) 

exercise corner

Passing the north window with the Japanese-style paper shade featuring cranes, the next corner used to hold a sit-down desk I built. Now, it’s stuffed with exercise gear, a part of my effort to keep the grave at bay. 

the couch

Pass the double-wide east window to the recliner-couch, a second-hand revelation. Next to the bookcase is a wooden crate I stole from my college roommate (he knew about it). Fitting, since theft would surely be an honor code at UVa (diploma normally hidden by the door).

the southwest corner

And the tv, which most often is a very large computer monitor connected to a tower in the nook.

I’ve glided past some art. Least obvious is an African mask that holds my wireless headphones. I love loud music while I work out. This leaves 4 bird images. The red cardinal I bought for my Mom a lifetime ago. The cardinal was her spirit animal (her daemon). Nearest it is a fabric peacock with chrysanthemum. This was also hers, possibly before my birth; she painted the frame. Most recently, I’ve added the gorgeous cerulean warbler (above the tv) and the great great horned owl (behind some gear). I bought them as indulgences at the start of the new normal, the age of staying home. (Both are by Linda Apple, who came to me via my friend AE.) 

Time spent in this room would better expose my few knickknacks: silver baby cups, cobra candlesticks (Dad’s), a Himalayan salt lamp. There is Teddy, my bear who rode on Mom’s coffin to the graveyard, the monkey, my beanie babies (cardinal & wolf), two giant mugs (“Think BIG” says one from Mom), the books. The double-door closet (below) is STUFFED with a hodgepodge of electronics & photography gear, plus a few clothes. 

Now, you have an insight into my daily life: hours on that couch, looking at that tv (mostly on the Web, reviewing photos, or journaling). Plus, 30-60 minutes most days working out to a mix of oldies and less-so. Mer and I watch comedies in the evening; I watch sci fi now and then. The dogs come and go as they please. (We got the larger couch to accommodate us four.) Life is good. (We are lucky.)

big screen selfie

Every picture tells a story — don’t it?

[no apologies to Rod Stewart]

my wall of old photos

These pictures span 40 years of my life, up until 25 years ago. Most have been languishing in the garage for ages. I like uncluttered walls for the most part, despite what you see here, which is one reason it took me most of a year to put these up, tucked in a corner of a room, half-hidden by a bookcase. 

Start with the three photos of me as a baby (well, 5 pictures. if you count each in the triptych).

In the upper-right (or center) are my Mom and Dad in college. (Damn, he had great hair. I more resemble my bald-pated maternal grandfather in that regard.)

Farthest left, as they would like it, are my brother, Dan, and his wife, Sharon, after tennis 37 years ago). Below them, my sister, Elizabeth and her two daughters, JoanE and Julianne (look closely).

Below my parents, central to my second life, are The Droogs. “My friends — I made them myself.” Above: we are teens by the Dart in front of Pine Street, all part of the mythology. That photo was taken by Michal Patten. Below: nearly 10 years later, behind Preston Road. Photo by Merri Rudd. 

In the lower left, a photo I took of the market in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. The artwork on the right is a drawing by Steve O’Neill (“The Easter Egg Hunt,” above, with a photobomb) and a painting by Jas Mullany (“Iconographic Mark” at 40, foreshadowing 47). 

People who are hugely important to me are missing here only because I don’t have large prints of them (the organizing principle of this display). They (you) abound in photo albums and thousands of digital photos I see every day. So many stories.  

Guns are a distraction

Note to gun owners: I don’t give a damn about your gun. I think guns are deadly. I think owning a gun is foolish. I think owning more than one gun is madness. (I think military weapons should be illegal.) I’m free to have these opinions just as you are free to have your guns. As long as your goddamn guns aren’t used to threaten people, to cause violence, to kill, or to demonstrate your smug moral superiority or terror, you can dress them up in hats and call them your girls, as far as I’m concerned. So, let’s drop this bullshit part of the “Culture War” that others exploit to keep us all riled up and distracted from the fact that the Rich want more, more, more.